Summer shop classes rise above economy - Patience required

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Summer shop classes rise above economy
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Some people are saying they’re thinking about taking classes and ask whether they’ll learn enough to build furniture and sell it.

“I always give them advice and say they shouldn’t count on it. But I do hear requests that people want to get out of the office and get a career change.”

Patience required
Kelly Mehler, of Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking in Berea, Ky., says about 200 students go through his seasonal program annually, which runs through the mid-year. The school opened in 2004 and has seen an increase in enrollment each year.

“Last year, it was amazing,” Mehler says. “I’m always sending out all of these brochures, but last year I never even mailed a brochure and we filled up really quickly when the schedule came out in the fall.

“This year, we had this nice little spike when we first came out with the new schedule, but when the economy started going down, we did not get a sustained sign-up like we had in the past, so it definitely slowed down this year.”

Mehler emphasized that his market is primarily a group of retired people, mostly men in their 50s and older.

“Those are the ones that are more frightened about spending their money. They’re getting a big decrease in their retirement, and they’re watching things more closely.

“But we’re lucky because our size is somewhat of an advantage — we’re not depending on a mass — we’ll always be just a couple hundred for the whole season. This year, the offerings are almost all full. We have three or four not full, but even those have a few spots, so we’re going to end up just as good as last year. It just didn’t happen as fast.

As for any potential competition that may attract his regular students, aside from the woes of the economy, Mehler says he encourages his students to get around to different courses.

“I can’t teach them everything here. If you need to know about a particular carving [technique], I can give you some instruction, but I’ll encourage them to go elsewhere for more information. There are other schools and there are more schools coming. That’s fine. We already do get a huge percentage of return students — over 70 percent — and it’s a really good feeling.”

The student to teacher ratio is about 7-to-1, while Mehler says the intimate, relaxed setting contributes to the school’s appeal.

No worries yet
David Welter, instructor at the College of the Redwoods School of Fine Woodworking in Fort Bragg, Calif., says the college is now accepting applications for summer classes.

“Our poorest turnout for summer classes occurred two years ago, with a healthy rebound last summer. I don’t expect that the economy may affect summer offerings as much as our nine-month program. People like to find an excuse to be here.”

Peter Korn, executive director of the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine, says this year’s enrollment for the school’s nine-month comprehensive and 12-week intensives is normal, and he will expect to fill all courses.

“Workshop enrollment is strong, but slower than last year at this time. It is tracking the average of the past five years, so we expect to finish the year just where we always do.”

Mary Nickol of the Coeur d’Alene School of Woodworking in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, who works as an instructor in exchange for shop time, says this year has been the school’s strongest enrollment yet since the school opened in 2005.

“The increase could be attributed to staying small and flexible enough to provide classes as needed. We also take some commission work. Of course, some credit needs to go to our beautiful surroundings, but these days any small business that is still growing is remarkable in itself.”

Contacts
Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, 25 Mill St., Rockport, ME 04856. Tel: 207-594-5611. www.woodschool.org
College of the Redwoods/School of Fine Woodworking, 440 Alger St., Fort Bragg, CA 95437. Tel: 707-964-7056. www.crfinefurniture.com
Coeur d’Alene School of Woodworking, 4951 Building Center Dr., Coeur d’Alene , Idaho 83815. Tel: 208-755-9902. www.cdawoodworkingschool.net
Dogwood Institute School of Fine Woodworking, 1640 Mid-Broadwell Road, Alpharetta, GA. Tel: 800-533-2440. www.dogwoodwoodworking.com
Kelly Mehler School of Woodworking, P.O. Box 786, Berea, KY 40403. Tel: 859-986-5540. www.kellymehler.com
Marc Adams School of Woodworking, 5504 E. 500 North, Franklin, IN 46131. Tel: 317-535-4013. www.marcadams.com